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A U.N.-sponsored government won't automatically command the trust of the Iraqi public. The U.S. hopes the Brahimi plan will be acceptable by the simple virtue that it wasn't concocted by Americans or their allies on the Governing Council. But members of the post--June 30 government still have to be effectively blessed by foreigners--a point not lost on Iraqis. "They cannot fix a wrong with a wrong," says Salah Hassan Habib, 22, a butcher in a Shi'ite neighborhood in Baghdad. "The next government should be elected." The U.N.'s reputation in Iraq is hardly lustrous: ordinary Iraqis suffered for more than a decade under sanctions enacted in the U.N.'s name. Also, since Saddam's fall, the newly free Iraqi press has uncovered evidence of massive corruption in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program.
And unless the security situation improves dramatically in the next 10 weeks, daily life under the occupation probably won't feel much different. The U.S. announced last week that it intends to keep 135,000 troops in Iraq for at least the next three months, 30,000 more than U.S. Central Command's projection for May. Both Bush and Blair reaffirmed their determination to proceed with the June 30 deadline, come hell or high water. They don't want to risk a delay in handing Iraqis a semblance of sovereignty. But June's transfer of power to whatever government ultimately takes shape looks increasingly like a symbolic event. As long as anticoalition forces maintain control over parts of the country, U.S. commanders have no choice but to keep troops on a combat footing. Although the violence in Iraq diminished somewhat last week, neither the U.S. military nor Iraqi intelligence sources believe that is likely to last long. A senior Iraqi intelligence source says flatly that the cycle of violence will escalate, not diminish, in the weeks ahead, according to his agency's intelligence reports. Furthermore, there appears to be evidence that foreign militants, including al-Qaeda operatives, are helping direct the Iraqi resistance. Another Iraqi intelligence official claims he is "60% to 70%" sure that Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian believed to be running al-Qaeda's operations in Iraq, has been involved in the Fallujah fight.
For the U.S., a grim possibility is that insurgents are exploiting the relative lull to prepare for new offensives. An insurgent interviewed by TIME last week says the bulk of his forces have used the ruse of recent truce talks to pull out of Fallujah in preparation for coming operations that will target Baghdad. Teams have been left behind in Fallujah to harass U.S. troops and provide cover for other insurgents to leave the city and head for the capital.